Who doesn’t like a FILMS OF THE DECADE list? Here’s mine – twenty-five of them, in order, from top to 25th.
Who doesn’t like a FILMS OF THE DECADE list? Here’s mine – twenty-five of them, in order, from top to 25th.
All films were released (with one exception, below) in Australian cinemas in 2017.
HOUNDS OF LOVE – AUSTRALIAN FILM OF THE YEAR
A disappointing year in Australian cinema saw the only Oz entry at number 10 – highly unusual. As Justin Kurzel did with Snowtown, Ben Young has taken a tired genre and given it enormous life by applying intelligence, depth of character and just a damned fine script. Hounds of Love is not as “everything” as Snowtown – not as disturbing, not as bloody, not as brilliant – but it is another inspired and noble entry in Australian cinema’s rich ledger of suburban nightmares. In films like these, the villains wear thongs, and people get hurt while the sun brilliantly shines.
Darren Aronofsky’s phantasmagoric fantasia on art, fame, success, religion, politics and the cult of celebrity erupts relentlessly and furiously. It is the angriest, most dynamic film I’ve seen this year, and probably the best film hailing from the US (although it seems to have been shot in Quebec). A fable or parable rather than a story centred in anything close to realism, utilising horror elements including an honest-to-goodness haunted house, mother! – the lower-case “m” and the exclamation mark are specific – is a wild and mesmerising ride, and should leave most engaged viewers with plenty to chew on. It is full of ideas.
Releasing in Australia March 2018, The Square has opened in the rest of the world and screened in multiple Australian festivals.
Ruben Östlund follows up his cringe-tension masterwork Force Majeure (which won Movieland Awards in 2014 for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Cinematography) with this Palmes D’Or-winning art world satire. At its best, it skims sublimely from scene to scene, arousing constant knowing humour, satirical appreciation and – Östlund’s speciality – ambiguous dread, before arriving at the scene of the year, in which Terry Notary, known primarily for motion-capture and particularly ape work in the vein of Andy Serkis, plays a performance artist with a particularly involving piece to present. Theatre actor Claes Bang makes a gigantic impression in the lead role of the curator of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm who may not be as cool as he looks; watch as he becomes a massive worldwide star (his spoken English, accented towards British, is perfect). Great fun.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER – BRITISH FILM OF THE YEAR
Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer is gripping, creepy, intense and wholly original. It slots beautifully into 2017 as The Year Of Intelligent Horror; it is also, easily, one of the best films of the year. The film is thematically rich and pungent, looking deep into marriage, family, ethics, morals and trust. Most immediately, it asks that classic question, “What would you do to protect your family?” – but you’ve never seen it asked like this. Outstanding.
Jordan Peele’s debut feature is a horror film without gore or jump-scares, a treatise on casual racism in America without being didactic or pointedly accusatory, and an intelligent and intense social satire without – or with very few – “jokes”, it feels closest in our immediate culture to an excellent American episode of Black Mirror, with a very American theme. Genres don’t so much collide as smoothly intertwine – copulate, even. And, like Black Mirror but unlike a lot of American “horror” cinema, everything has a point. This is a film with something to say, which uses pure entertainment to say it – which is its genius. You’re constantly too creeped out to realise you’re learning something.
THE DISASTER ARTIST
Director James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is enormously proficient as a comedy – in terms of laughs out loud, it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years – while also displaying epic chops as a faithful adaptation of an intriguing memoir, an odd-couple buddy movie, a Tale of Hollywood, and a meditation on ambition. It may very well be the most purely entertaining film of the year.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT – AMERICAN FILM OF THE YEAR
I’ve seen two of Baker’s previous features, Starlet (2012) and Tangerine (2015). Both were original, often very funny, and determinedly empathetic for their characters who lived in the margins of society. However, The Florida Project towers above them as a major, mature work, one of the very best films of 2017. Like Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Alexander Payne’s Election (1999) and Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight (1998), this is the big, confident, near-perfect film that delivers on a director’s enormous, already demonstrated, promise and potential.
The movie is great value, because it’s at least three films in one: ghost story, American-in-Paris workplace drama and vaguely “Hitchcockian” thriller. We first meet Stewart’s character Maureen (such an intriguing, old-fashioned name for someone so young and hip; Stewart wears it beautifully, and a touch ironically) as she spends the night in a secluded house in order to see if it’s haunted. This scene, played straight – and with a ghost! – seems almost shockingly, literally “genre”; is Assayas really going there? The short answer is, he is, but he’s going other places too, and the movie keeps shifting gears with highly-engineered precision.
RAW – RUNNER UP FILM OF THE YEAR / FILM DEBUT OF THE YEAR
Within its perverse take on coming-of-age, it examines peer pressure, burgeoning sexuality, academic tradition, accepted modes of living and social acceptance, while also being a mesmerising, totally compelling – and, yes, grisley – thrill ride. It’s high-octane, thrilling, compelling stuff that had me transfixed and excited. Director Julia Ducournau goes all-out with her imagery and use of a fantastically creepy score by Jim Williams, who scored Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England. She creates visual moments that immediately brand themselves onto your psyche and sequences that are simply unforgettable. The story, as it unfurls, simultaneously bears a sense of inevitability but is also constantly surprising, and packs a supremely satisfying climax.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – FILM OF THE YEAR
This is a film that stays with you. Its mood, its heart and its characters have been tickling my brain since seeing it. It feels nourishing and generous, like a meal that was delicious and has turned out to have ongoing health benefits. It’s briefly altered my perception of the world, reminding me that there is decency out there, somewhere. And I daresay, if I was a gay teenager right now, or even just a teenager, this would be the movie I needed. It may be one of those films that change many thousands of young lives for the better. For many, it will become a favourite, a classic, even a life-saver. It is sublime.
What were yours? Your comments welcome in the Comments Section.
Here’s my top ten as of 30th June 2017 (so, before I saw It Comes At Night, which would definitely have slipped in there, to the detriment of Ghost In The Shell). Enjoy! Your comments more than welcome.
While you’re there, enjoy some of the other fine shows offered by Skipi.Tv – thanks as always to Bruce, Lawrence and Sam.
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**** (out of five)
Trey Edward Shults made the best feature film of 2016, Krisha. His follow-up is an intensely personal, extremely precise meditation on fear, grief, family and community. It creates, along with Get Out, Raw, Hounds of Love and Personal Shopper, a quintet of horror-adjacent films this year that have far more to say, and say it far better, than any “non-genre” releases. These auteur thrillers are, thus far, the films of 2017.
Shults is an auteur indeed. Krisha was made in his parents’ house using family members for around thirty thousand bucks. A24, the best distribution company working today (Moonlight, 20th Century Women, American Honey, The Lobster, Green Room, The Witch, Room, Amy, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, Locke, Under The Skin, The Spectacular Now… to name a few!) saw the film, recognised prodigiousness (Schults is only 28) and gave him five million bucks, with, it seems, total creative control. May they keep on doing so; may he be to them as Tarantino is to Miramax. Shults is uncompromising, delivering his film; it may not appeal to a mainstream genre audience, but for cinephiles, it is sublime. Every moment of the film is determined and exact, including its ambiguity. It is a distinguished work of cinema from a serious artist.
Joel Edgerton gives his finest performance to date as Paul, a man trying to keep his wife, son and dog safe in the shadow of a plague. They live in a boarded-up house in the middle of some woods, somewhere in the United States, under strict isolationist protocols; when circumstances determine those protocols to be ever-so-slightly altered – when things change – they change for the worse.
The overriding tone here is dread. The film is relentlessly bleak, often sad, and frequently creepy, but more than anything, it’s anxious. Paranoia reigns. Paul’s determination to protect his small family has caused him to be jumpy, edgy and hard. He was a history teacher before the plague; now he’s an armed sentinel. His choices in this desperate situation are completely relatable, and the film achieves enormous power putting us in his shoes: “What the hell would I do?”
This is a lean film in every aspect, including its running time of 97 minutes (which may be all you can take). The craft across all departments is impeccable; Shults knows how to marry vision and sound. The script has many surprises and, as mentioned, some deliberate ambiguities. I gather some audiences have not exactly embraced the latter; I found them wholly satisfying (as I did the ending, which I think is brilliant). Your takeaway from It Comes At Night may really depend on what you want out of cinema. This is challenging stuff that bears intellectual rigour, or, to put it another way: if you’re not willing to think about it, you probably won’t like it.
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**** (out of five)
Kristen Stewart is now Olivier Assayas’ muse, and he is now her most important director. They collaborated for the first time on 2014’s excellent Clouds of Sils Maria; Stewart took home the César Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the personal assistant to a film star played by Juliette Binoche. Now Stewart plays the assistant to another powerful and celebrated European celebrity – not entirely defined, but either a model or a bigwig in fashion – but very much takes the leading role in Personal Shopper. She’s in every scene, and the movie is all about her. It’s her finest performance to date and the film is the equal of Clouds, and up there with Assayas’ best work.
The movie is great value, because it’s at least three films in one: ghost story, American-in-Paris workplace drama and vaguely “Hitchcockian” thriller. We first meet Stewart’s character Maureen (such an intriguing, old-fashioned name for someone so young and hip; Stewart wears it beautifully, and a touch ironically) as she spends the night in a secluded house in order to see if it’s haunted. This scene, played straight – and with a ghost! – seems almost shockingly, literally “genre”; is Assayas really going there? The short answer is, he is, but he’s going other places too, and the movie keeps shifting gears with highly-engineered precision. When Maureen leaves the haunted house and returns to her job, shopping for high-end clothes and jewellery for the aforementioned fashionista, the film slides securely back into territory we’re familiar with from Clouds, and Maureen could almost be Stewart’s character from that movie; it would make sense, to leave Binoche and find a new, younger and more distant boss to service, and, if Assayas had made this a sequel, I would have bought it.
Halfway through, the third element – the thriller – enters the fray, and infects both the exotic workplace and the haunted house. The effect this shift has is electrifying, and the extended sequence on the Eurostar, where Maureen is stalked via text, will be deservedly admired and discussed for years to come. Stewart’s complicated emotional and psychological response to this series of events represents new levels of intimacy and vulnerability in her work, which some critics, in the past, have found cold and remote.
Assayas and his cinematographer Yorick Le Saux shoot Stewart, Eurostar, Paris, Europe, everything magnificently. Nobody shoots daily contemporary urban life like Assayas, with its bustling beauty, havoc and disparity. You don’t necessarily notice the camerawork – it’s not like a Scorsese picture – but the moves and, in particular, the framings are quiet perfection.
I will be telling my filmmaking students to see this movie, not only for its general quality, but specifically to appreciate its approach to ambiguity. Easy answers to any of the film’s threads are not readily apparent by the end credits, yet the whole is immensely satisfying. It is a rich and hearty stew, nourishing for mind and soul.